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    Diesel Exhaust: Producer Gas Engines

    How do we know the Germans did not use producer gas engines to create the poisonous exhaust used in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    There is no evidence that the Germans used producer gas engines to murder the Jews in the gas chambers and gas vans, even though they generated much more carbon monoxide in their exhaust than do diesel engines.[1] Therefore, the whole process of murder by engine exhaust “is totally absurd.”

    The facts are:

    There is in fact no evidence that the Germans used producer gas engines to murder the Jews in the gas chambers and gas vans for several good reasons. Producer gas engines are highly flammable and they are inefficient. It is empty speculation that the Germans should have used them, but didn’t, so engine exhaust was not used to murder Jews.

    The self-named “Denierbud,” the American Holocaust denier video maker, offers a demonstration of a homemade producer gas generator cobbled together by “innovative people” from an old water heater, pipes and a pail “found lying around the backyard.” Noting that this contraption could produce a much higher concentration of carbon monoxide than a regular gasoline engine, Denierbud asserts that the “Germans would have known that” since a high percentage of Nobel Peace Prize winners for chemistry before 1939 were Germans. Denierbud concludes that Holocaust survivors, who he calls “storytellers,” described diesel engines in their accounts because they “assumed that the biggest smelliest engine would be the one that produced the most deadly gas.”[2]

    Santiago Alvarez[3] agrees with Denierbud: “So how come that anyone could come up with the ridiculous claim that Diesel engine exhaust gas was used for mass murder instead of producer gas? Well, the producer gas technology had been a recent German development and had probably not sunk into the consciousness of those spreading the story. The Diesel engine, in contrast, was a German invention of the late 19th century and was therefore well-known during World War II. Claiming the use of huge Diesel engines might simply have sounded more German, and during and after World War II anything ‘German’ equaled evil.”[4]

    What is a producer gas engine? How does it work?

    A vehicle fueled by a producer gas engine has a special chamber attached to it in which wood is burned. The gases produced by the burning wood are drawn through a pipe where they are used as fuel in a modified gasoline or diesel engine.

    During the war, gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel were in short supply in the Greater Reich and was reserved for military uses, so the Germans began to convert many gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles to producer gas.

    Most importantly, according to Friedrich Berg, an American Holocaust denier and major proponent of the theory that diesel engine exhaust can’t kill humans, the exhaust of producer gas vehicles contains between 18 percent and 35 percent carbon monoxide, which is a lethal amount many times over.[5]

    The drawbacks of producer gas engines—the flammability issue.

    The major drawback to the use of producer gas technology in the gas chambers or gas vans is that carbon monoxide is flammable. It can ignite when it exceeds 12 percent of the volume of the atmosphere.[6] Therefore, the risk of fire and/or explosion was very high. If the gas chamber buildings had burned to the ground or the gas vans had blown up each time they were used they would not have been a very useful or dependable method of mass murder.

    Interestingly, in Denierbud’s video clip the homemade gas generator is shown sitting far away in an open space. Denierbud and his “innovative” friends are nowhere in sight. If it is so simple and safe, why are they are not brave enough to go near the contraption once it is fired up?

    The facts about the other limitations of producer gas technology.

    There are several other limitations of producer gas technology that made it impracticable for use in the gas chambers or gas vans:

    First, a producer gas engine cannot be started immediately. A fire has to be lit in the chamber and there is a waiting period as the burning wood or coal started to generate the gasses.

    During peak periods in the camps the transports arrived continuously. It would have been very inefficient to have had to tinker with lighting fires, continually providing fuel, and constantly monitoring the exhaust gases—all the while risking possible fire and explosion at any moment.

    Second, a producer gas engine cannot be started or run in an enclosed space like a garage without the users themselves risking death from carbon monoxide poisoning.

    In Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor eyewitness testimony confirms that the engines were housed in nearby sheds or in rooms attached to the back of the gas chambers. If producer gas engines or generators had been housed in a small room or shed the “Gasmeisters” (“Gas Masters”) ran the very real risk of dying along with their victims every time they were used.

    Finally, no perpetrator, survivor or bystander ever described the use of producer gas generators engines but did describe either a gasoline or diesel engine.

    Gas producer vehicle, 1940. Sam Hood [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of  collections from the State Libraries of NSW.
    Gas producer vehicle, 1940. Sam Hood [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of  collections from the State Libraries of NSW.


    The demonstration done by Denierbud and his “innovative” friends about the ease of construction and use of a homemade “gas generator” is worthless as evidence.

    Alvarez’s and Denierbud’s assertions that diesel engines were chosen as the murder weapon by the “storytellers” because they were big, smelly and German is ludicrous and unsupported. The Germans probably didn’t use producer gas technology in the gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor and the gas vans because they were concerned about their own safety. The use of producer gas engines carried a high risk of fire or explosion and was potentially deadly to the perpetrators themselves.

    Further, efficiency and speed in the murder process was critical. Like a factory production line, the mass murder operation had to run smoothly and at top speed. Using producer gas engines or gas generators would have been inefficient and slow.




    [1] Friedrich Berg, “Diesel Gas Chambers: Ideal for Torture—Absurd for Murder” (“Half a Million Poison Gas Generators on Wheels . . .”) at http://www.nazigassings.com/dieselgaschamberb.html.

    [2] “One Third of the Holocaust” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taIaG8b2u8I at approximately 24:00 to 26:00 minutes.

    [3] Possibly a pseudonym.

    [4] Santiago Alvarez and Pierre Marais, The Gas Vans: A Critical Investigation (Barnes Review, 2011), pp. 103-104

    [5] Friedrich Berg, “Pat Buchanan and the Diesel Exhaust Controversy” at http://www.nazigassings.com/PatBuchanan.htm.

    [6] Jamie McCarthy, “DThomas’ Diesel Retreat” (“Part 3 of 4”) at http://www.nizkor.net/hweb/people/nyms/dthomas/diesel-retreat-03.html.